PrideFest -- Pittsburgh's long-running celebration of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) communities -- is under new management. And organizers are planning to turn the annual gay-pride weekend into a full week's worth of programming ... complete with national corporate sponsors like Bank of New York Mellon.
"We just wanted to compete with other cities," says Gary A. Van Horn Jr. of Mount Washington, owner of Downtown's Images bar and head of a revived Delta Foundation, which was started a decade ago by Downtown gay bar owners and is spearheading this year's organizing effort.
"We wanted to follow the models of other towns -- New York and Toronto -- and cover all walks of life," Van Horn adds. "If you're into poetry, if you're into partying ... [w]e want every nonprofit and every social group to be involved."
Delta already plans to move PrideFest from the North Side to Liberty Avenue to take better advantage of Three Rivers Arts Festival happening simultaneously. Delta board member Tom Schneck, of the North Side, sees the possibility in 2008 of adding everything from book signings to GLBT-focused movies and new lesbian-specific events.
The Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Squirrel Hill had previously organized PrideFest, and some behind-the-scenes activists have been uneasy about having bar owners head up this year's Pride Week events, which are slated to take place June 16-22. But organizers note that they are working with many of the event planners from the previous year.
PrideFest Chair Jeff Freedman, who chaired the previous three festivals as well, notes that "[i]t's basically the PrideFest Committee from the past three years" who will be working under Delta. "We are probably the most diverse committee or organization in the city, because we have to be," to serve all segments of the GLBT community. "We're not going to change that." And Delta is valuable, he adds, because "they have the accessibility to a lot of very good resources and talent that will absolutely bring PrideFest up to a whole new level this year."
"We wanted to work with the GLCC," says Van Horn, "and really improve Pride, making it a significant event for the city of Pittsburgh."
Delta is also holding a Feb. 5 "Town Hall Meeting" at One Mellon Center to elicit ideas and volunteers for the event.
"We love this town," says Schneck. "We're concerned that Pittsburgh doesn't have a strong gay and lesbian community. We're not shown strong in the community, except one day of the year" -- and even then the event doesn't attract the largest possible crowd. "We want to put Pittsburgh on the map and get people from outside our tri-state area" -- and from outside the GLBT community. At the most recent Chicago Pride event Schneck attended last year, he explains, "It was so nice to see families -- straight families -- watching the Pride parade in the street."
Jim Fischerkeller, chair of one of the earliest city PrideFests in 1980, says there has indeed been a "ceiling" attendance organizers haven't been able to break. "It'll be interesting to see, with the change, [whether] the bar crowd will come out more" to PrideFest itself -- or whether they will just come to the block party, called Pride in the Streets.
"There hasn't been a year where there hasn't been more improvement," says Lyndsey Sickler, of New Brighton, Beaver County, who has helped organize PrideFest for the last seven years. Yet she too is happy to see PrideFest expand to Pride Week, and the festival become more visible. "Everybody seems really invested [and] excited. They're coming to the table with tons of ideas."
They also bring connections. Schenk, for one, does marketing and books national acts for Station Square, and has volunteered to do the same for Pride Week after being recruited by Van Horn. The group has also landed national sponsorship deals with Mellon and the Borders bookstore chain.
While Fischerkeller doesn't view Delta's public meeting as "groundbreaking," as it's been advertised -- other PrideFest organizers have done the same thing -- the new management "could have a positive effect," he says. "They are reaching out to the whole community, and I do give them credit."
"The hardest part of the diversity to get" involved in PrideFest, concludes Schneck, "are the straight people."
Town Hall Meeting: Tue., Feb. 5, 7-9 p.m., One Mellon Center, 500 Grant St., Downtown. See www.PittsburghPrideSpace.com.
- "Pride in the Street" was the newest addition to PrideFest last year.